MY BOOK


After 20 years of research and writing, my book, In Their Right Minds: The Lives and Shared Practices of Poetic Geniuses (2015) Exeter, UK: Imprint Academic, is available from the publisher in a very well-made paperback edition. Initially a #1 Hot New Release in Neuropsychology and Poetry/Literary Criticism on Amazon.com, it can also be acquired on Amazon in most countries, either in print, a Kindle edition, or both. If you are interested in consciousness, creativity, poetry, psychology, and/or the paranormal, I think you will find it an illuminating read. You can read the first chapter for free on Amazon!

Hearing the Voice, Getting it Right


 Once, in a frightening dream, a patient on a psychiatrist’s couch shouted at me: “Freud only got it half right!” Following this ambiguous remark, the Darth Vader-like voice bellowed a command: “Read the two Hyperion poems!” After twenty years of research, I am now attempting to explain the neurological and psychological origins of the dissociative knowledge that has entered some of history's greatest poetic minds.



Victor Hugo once heard a voice declare “Au travail, grand homme!” His mind, altered by loss of a loved one and political exile, had transformed the sound of the waves crashing around his island home into a command to get to work. He spent two and a half years attempting to contact the dead during his exile, writing the immortal Les Misérables and reams of poetry as well. Soliciting the advice of the dead poets and prophets he had long admired helped him dull the pain of his diminished, alienated universe. Other great poets were also impelled by traumas and losses to explore similar means of consolation.



American poet James Merrill spent 20 years contacting the dead using a Ouija board with his companion David Jackson. The dissociative words, spelled out in haste and often with humor, described the history and invisible functioning of the universe that would be molded into Merrill's brilliant and self-consoling 560-page poem, The Changing Light at Sandover.






William Butler Yeats accessed voices through his wife, Georgie. She either spoke the words while asleep, as Yeats wrote them down, or produced automatic handwriting. Like Merrill with Jackson, Yeats would construct a grand scheme to order the universe, where he held an important position. Poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s voice came to him like Hugo's, transformed in the rush of wind and waves. Highly poetic and personal language poured forth, combating loss and entraining truth and beauty in its wake.


Neither poet nor prophet, I am just a scribe trying to get it right. I wish I could get the words from a Ouija board (much more convenient than Hugo’s laborious table tapping in family séances) or from an inspired rush of wind or waves titillating my mind in a self-hushed trance. Outside of my original dream message, I have never received any other dissociative knowledge. I have read the scientific literature and analyzed other's creative voices to make sense of the phenomenon.

In my doctoral days, I had studied how the mythic mother ruled in early human history; how she was dethroned by patriarchal forces; but also how she inevitably returns in times of crisis in the mythic undercurrents of literature, especially in poetry. Matriarchal myth studies subsided in the wake of the crisis experience of a close friend of mine. After her mother’s death, she claimed to hear the voices of angels advising and consoling her, helping her deal with life and grief as well as to become an intuitive healer. Her experience led me to the poets, as my dream "mad" man pointed the way.



The first book that helped me make sense of her experience was Julian Jaynes's, The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (1976). Here, he located the voices of the gods in the right temporal lobe of the brain.  Due to migrations, historical catastrophes, and, especially, the beginning of literacy, the voices fell silent and self-consciousness was born. Mental “breakdowns” can return one to a “bicameral” or dissociative mind. Jaynes’s theory was compelling, yet 
controversial, and needed updating with current scientific research.


Jung also experienced voices and visions and used these perceptions to construct his account of individual psychic life and the connections that bind us all. A line in his biography Memories, Dreams, Reflections, in fact, eerily replicated my dream message: “Freud was only considering half of the whole.” Freud’s "half" theorized the sexually desired birth mother, while Jung’s "half" longed for the mythical Great Mother. Could it be both were right?

Jung’s work is enormously helpful in understanding the voices. Yet, modern neuroscience reaffirms Freud in the sense that the infantile relation to the mother can alter the brain, not through sexual longing but through psychic wounding. Since many neuroscientists now agree that the wounding occurs in the right hemisphere, perhaps by adding Freud's maternal half to Jung's mythic half we find our way to a deeper truth.




Tallying the mythic mothers, the mother-mediated crises, the voices of female angels and the poetic muses, I felt that everything was constellating around the mother, the original other who we were until we developed a separate consciousness. The mother mirrored the child, who internalized her presence until he or she could regulate their own emotions. Dr. Allan N. Schore’s book, Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self,  identified and located this process in the right hemisphere. No longer a metaphorical construct, the feminine was literally hardwired into the child’s mind. Here, in the pre-verbal matrix of the emerging self, maternal wounds can scar a child. An abusive, neglectful, or lost mother, as well as a smothering one, could create problems of boundary loss or self-control issues so common in pathological disorders. Later crises, especially the death or loss of loved ones, can open old wounds.


Poetic words are an embodiment. Confronted with loss, abandonment, or fear of death, words may arise unbidden, seeking to construct a hierarchy to defend against that chaotic absence. The mind reels without an internal stabilizing principle. A void must be filled; order must be restored. An all-encompassing premise becomes a presence containing the grief and giving the injured self a larger, comforting space to inhabit—the one vacated by the mother.

The locus of that new ordering--the right temporal lobe--uses the raw materials of memory as well as snatches of bits from the natural world around it to create, much like in a dream. Its fears and preferred ways of making sense of the world will color its creations. The loss and the proclivities appeared again and again as I studied the minds of great poets who heard voices or used dissociative techniques to access them. Analyzing their ability to put their preoccupations into words tells us not only about the poetic process but also about ourselves—our common human psychology, our preoccupations and our ability to create.

This study sheds light on commonly observed phenomena, explained from the dual optic of neuropsychology and poetry. Why does a disordered sense of self so often result in conflicted impressions of gender? Why does the disordered self so often use religious or mythic imagery? Why does religion itself so often constellate around gender issues and death? Sorting through the evidence that neuroscience and the poets provide, my book, In Their Right Minds: The Lives and Shared Practices of Poetic Geniuses, attempts to make sense of it all, while fully appreciating the great mystery and beauty of the creating mind.

11 comments:

Kem said...
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Kem said...

Carole, Your posting gives me much to ponder. I think of my children--where I was at that point in time or more generally what "psychic" traits swim in me that attached to them due to that mother contact. The language you use to write about it all and the questions you ask at the end are those that I ask as well, but you have put language to them for me.

Anonymous said...
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outofkur said...

I read your article on creativity and poetry in the jaynesian. Your words resonate within me, as I am so on my own path for that particular truth. You mentioned your french literature dissertation topic. I am very interested it reading it. I have come along the same lines of what you shared, but on a completely different wave.

Carole Brooks Platt, Ph.D. said...

Thanks, outofkur for your comment and interest in my dissertation. On my Web site publications page, you will find links to most of my work:

http://carolebrooksplatt.com/Publications.html

The next to last entry is my dissertation on matriarchal myth in three French women authors and the following is an article which sums it up.

Thanks again for your interest!

Will Meecham, MD said...

Interesting line of investigation. I'm glad you found my post on PsychCentral and offered me this link.

In 2000, in the midst of the collapse of my surgical career and many other problems, I experienced profound visionary experiences. Heard angelic voices, watched the Big Bang unfold, and felt called to unite scientific with mystical thinking. Needless to say, it was a bit overwhelming.

Eventually my elevated state was diagnosed as a manic psychosis and treated with hospitalization and all that entails. The value of those messages seemed doubtful afterwards, but many years of contemplation eventually led to some clarity. I began to see ways to achieve union between left and right brain thinking styles and their respective mental products, specifically in the realm of materialist vs spiritualist worldviews. Currently writing about these issues on my personal site (WillSpirit, not PsychCentral).

Anyway, I know firsthand the power of mysterious calls to both motivate and disrupt. No wonder the great poets sometimes went mad. It's a lot to contain inside one little skull.

Thanks for exploring this rich and intricate landscape. It means a lot to me to hear it taken seriously.

Right Mind Matters said...

Will, this is the first time I've seen your comment!

Thank you so much for telling your story and providing the diagnosis: manic psychosis.

I'm currently reading Marsha Keith Schuchard's book, Willam Blake's Sexual Path to Spiritual Vision, which is about Swedenborg as much as Blake. Both were raised in god-drenched houses, both clearly experienced manic psychosis, provoked as much by indoctrination as what I see as unusually enhanced bilateral minds, which often leads to psychosis.

I also think that poets get their predisposition genetically, which would explain their parents thought processes as well.

Trauma then sets the children over the edge. But, as in my dream, if we're stressed enough, anyone can go over the edge with altered consciousness doing its best to make things right, sometimes with enormously bad advice, others with suggestions, seemingly out of nowhere, but probably recombined at an unconscious level or imported through extrasensory means.

It's all fascinating stuff to me and I will certainly check out WillSpirit. Many thanks again!

Julia Gordon-Bramer said...

It seems to me that this dissassociative knowledge is the artistic norm. I know that every good and great poem I've read connects the abstract in a deeper way, and certainly every poem I've written has surprised me with this higher knowledge that seems to come from beyond myself. It is part of the poetic experience, whether or not one wants to claim spirituality.

Right Mind Matters said...

Thanks for commenting, Julia. It means a lot to me. Now, you see from whence my interest in Plath and Hughes arose. I just keep on researching the neuroscience trying to make sense of it all. I just remembered that I first met you through my interpretation of your "sense of presence" when researching Plath. It all comes together and so much seems synchronous, willed in some grander scheme, even if it's an illusion. I just watched Baz Luhrmann's Great Gatsby. I don't think I have ever been so emotionally immersed in a film before, on so many levels.

Susanne van Doorn said...

Thank you for alerting me to the dreams when you responded on my blog http://mindfunda.com, I really enjoyed reading your information. Did you know that voice-dreams often have more impact on a dreamer. They usually make the dreamer take action.

Right Mind Matters said...

That makes sense, Susanne, because images can be ambiguous, but commands (like the one I heard) require, no demand, action. This is true whether in a wake state or in an altered state, like dreaming.